Dr Gregory Cameron is a general practitioner and authorised WorkCover medical practitioner based in Penrith, NSW. The founder of Healthnet Family Clinic, a multi-disciplinary surgery catering for over 15 000 patients, Dr Cameron is also an experienced expert witness who has prepared numerous expert witness reports through ExpertsDirect.
ED: What is your field of expertise?
GC: My field of expertise is General Practice Medicine. I have been working in General Practice since 1992; I set up my own practice in Penrith in 1994 and sold it to IPN in 2015. I have seen the gamut of General Practice problems and understand the pressures and challenges that GPs face every day. There’s an old joke in medicine:
What’s the difference between a GP and a specialist?
Specialists know everything about nothing and GP’s know nothing about everything.
As a GP, you never know what is going to come through your door next, and I try to be cognisant of that when I write my expert report.
ED: From your experience as an expert witness, how would you improve your industry standards?
GC: That is a difficult question. While there are a lot of organisations doing a very good job to make resources available (RACGP, AMA etc.), when I have searched for the guidelines for managing even commonly occurring diseases, sometimes it is not easy to find the relevant information. If these could be amalgamated into an easily accessible database, that would certainly improve standards. The other problem that I have encountered, especially now that I have been in a large group practice for the last year or so, is the wide range of computer literacy levels and use between practitioners. In my practice, we have some staff who are completely computerised as well as others who still use paper notes exclusively. As one of the main problems I see when doing my reports is poor notekeeping and records management, and given the advent of electronic health records, our industry should be moving forward to use exclusively electronic records as soon as possible.
ED: What is the most memorable case that you have worked on?
GC: Probably the most memorable case I have worked on (and which is still before the courts), revolved around a woman asking her GP for a test to see if she was a carrier of an uncommon genetic condition. This was 1999 and knowledge of genetics has exploded over the last 15 years. The GP didn’t order the correct test and advised the woman she was not a carrier. A few years later she met someone and later had two children. When they failed to develop as expected, they were tested for this condition and both found to have it. Surprisingly, the patient then sued the pathology company, not her GP. The pathology company has since gone bankrupt and was bought by another pathology company. The lawyers for this company sought leave to counter sue the GP and asked me to provide a report regarding the GP’s management of this case.
ED: What is the most challenging and rewarding part of being an expert witness?
GC: The most challenging parts of the being an expert witness are, firstly, the time taken to research the case, especially if it is a rare or unusual condition. In the case I mentioned, I had to find the relevant standards which applied in 1999. This involved weeks of searching, and eventually they were found archived in a library in Melbourne. The other challenging area is trying to put myself in the shoes of the GP. Many of the cases for which I have done reports are similar to real life patients I have seen over the years. I have done reports for both claimants and defendants and try to be as fair and balanced as possible. In terms of the rewarding parts of being an expert witness, the research required helps me expand and update my knowledge and I learn something new every day.
ED: How has expert witness work contributed to your professional development?
GC: I think the process of finding the relevant standards and researching the journals, articles etc., provides a wealth of information and I believe has made me a better doctor. Being an expert witness and reviewing countless doctors files, notes etc., has reinforced the importance of accurate note taking and documentation. I have tried to bring this to my new practice, which comprises 9 doctors. I have shared a couple of the cases for which I have been an expert, and hopefully it has influenced the way that they practice for the better.
ED: Do you have any advice for anyone wishing to get involved with expert witness work?
GC: My advice to anyone wishing to become an expert witness would be to attend a course such as the ones run by ExpertsDirect, RACGP, AMA etc. Expert report writing is very different. During the courses, you have the opportunity to interact with lawyers, barristers and judges/arbitrators and get an insight as to what they are looking for in a report. In one of the courses, we were split into 3 groups and had to write a report for the one of three parties involved in a fictional case. These reports were then “marked” by one of the barristers, giving great feedback as to where you could improve your reports. The other consideration in doing this type of work is time. Depending on the complexity of the case, it can take hours to research the material for a report, then write it and review it, speaking to the lawyers/counsel and finally being available for court to give evidence. In the genetic case that I mentioned, I did that report 18 months ago and negotiations are still ongoing for a date to get all the witnesses together. At this stage, it is looking like late 2017. You do need a flexible work schedule to be able to accomodate this and need to be able to set aside quite a few hours for the research, preparation and writing of the report.